Americana

Those who know me best can confirm that the longer I live in Britain, the more American I become.

The truth, of course, is that at 18 you do all you can to fit in, but by 38, you really don’t care.

But the particular aspect of Americana that emerge always surprise me.  Right now, this season, I have suddenly embraced my roots, and discovered a love of cookies.

Please understand:  cookies are not biscuits.  This is not just a word game.  Cookies are chewy and soft and wonderful.  Biscuits are for serving with tea when you really don’t want people to get too comfortable.

It began with a sudden craving for oatmeal cookies a few months ago.
And then — as Halloween came, and then the snow, I have been on a quest for the perfect Molasses Cookie.

The Perfect Molasses Cookie comes from Sturbridge Village.   It is eaten as you walk on dirt paths through bright autumn leaves, or as you stand shivering in the snow and discover a sudden interest in blacksmiths, because the forge is warm.  The cookies are hard when you bite into them — almost too hard — but then they yield and become chewy, dark handfulls of bliss.

These cookies are also big — 5 or 6 inches across, even when such a thing was rare in the states.  (there is no reason to make a 6 inch chocolate chip cookie.  It is just consumerism gone wrong.  A chocoloate chip cookie has it’s best texture at 2 1/2 inches.  But a Molasses cookie needs to be big, to get the right mix of crunchy and chewy — as well as to see you through the gale force ten storm, as you ride the waves.

OK, you’ve caught me.  Sturbridge has no waves.  But the cookie in question has a shipping heritage, and I grew up near Mystic too.  Old Cookie recipes are allowed to accumulate geography along the way.

So far, my attempts to create this perfect childhood memory have failed.  They have failed because I have not found the right recipe yet — and not just because of the inevitable gilding of childhood memory.  But what fun it is trying.

The first batch tasted great, but had totally the wrong texture.
The second batch came closer to the right texture, but the taste was not as good.  The next batch — which is on hold till I either want them enough to carry flour across town in the snow, or till I manage to free my car from the driveway — might just be the one, though I am dubious about the concept that the chewy wonders might be roll cookies instead of drop cookies.

The recipie below is the second one — chewy, but not spicy enough.  I’ll give it as I made it and you can adapt.

I realise, of course, that I should be thinking about more noble things in Advent.  But today is Wednesday, and my day off, and cookies also proclaim the glory of God.

recipe below the fold… Molasses Cookies

1 cup sugar  (uk = volume equivalent of 8 fluid ounces)
1 cup shortening   (uk = trex)
1 cup dark molasses (or black treacle if you are snowed in and can’t get the real stuff)

2 eggs

4 cups (16 oz) flour
1 teaspoon (t) baking soda
1 t salt
2 t cinnamon
2 t ginger

Cream the sugar and shortening.  Beat in molasses and eggs.  Stir in flour.  Let chill for 15 min (or as long as you like) to make it easier to handle.

Break off walnut sized balls of dough, roll them, and dip them in coarse sugar.  Flatten slightly as you put them on the baking sheet.

Bake at 350 F/ 180 C/  GM 4  for 12 – 15 minutes.

The tops will crack and that is part of the charm.

Next time I make these, I’m going to try half butter instead of shortening; brown sugar instead of white; and 15 minutes instead of 12.  I’ve already increased the amount of ginger, but even that might not be enough.

Let me know how it goes…

And if you think you have the perfect recipe already, please share.

22 thoughts on “Americana

  1. This post makes me so happy. I too, am always on the lookout for the perfect molasses cookie (or gingerbread cookie, which to me evokes the same goodness you describe, although the cookies of my childhood memories were a little drier – too dry really).

    I shall set James this task this weekend whilst I’m conferencing and let you know how he gets on (he thinks his task is to paint the shelving he’s installing in the study – but I’m sure he’ll be happy to make cookies while the paint dries – especially if I play the ‘p’ card, which I do shamelessly).

  2. Oh, and I can already guess he’ll want to substitue all butter for shortening because he has some wierd prejudice against it (what can you say, our cultural differences most often come out in relation to food).

  3. If he substitutes all butter for shortening, they will be hard rather than chewy. It is a false snobbery that eschews vegetable shortening: is is part of what makes the American Cookie soft. Can you win him over by reminding him that trex is not hydrogenated?

    What I’m not sure of is that Trex is quite the same as Crisco. I think Crisco adds water (so that it works in equal volume to butter) and Trex doesn’t. But I’m still experimenting with that one.

    If you like soft-cakey gingerbread cookies, you might prefer the first recipe I tried. Let me know can I can send it to you.

    If you play the ‘P’ word, I think you should play it for pecan pie too. Good with black coffee on a snowy day. You live near enough Lupe Pintos to get the Karo…
    (or rather: he does)

  4. I’ve just remembered — Flora White is the same consistency as Crisco.

    Trex isn’t.

    It’s just that I couldn’t get Flora White last time.

    So — if using trex, reduce the amount to 4/5 of a cup (annoyingly) and a bit more water.

  5. Having spent many summer vacations at both Sturbridge Village and Mystic seeking to win over relatives in law of a bygone era, I was introduced to the existence of the aforementioned cookie delights. I am in no doubt
    that they are responsible for my widening waistline, and am humbled by the complexity of ingredients. I apologise for the thoughtless devouring that has taken place. I may now seek to bring a slice of Sturbridge to Scotland via the stove.

  6. American food with its deep conservative roots is a delight and a puzzle. IF I EVER have kitchen and time again – I shall essay. I take it real molasses is a viscous liquid and not dark sugar?

  7. Lovely post! Glorious narrative and descriptive prose. Taste buds also tickled! Cookies are from God and as much a journey as anything else. Made me smile x

  8. Despite my hopes, the shelving did take over the weekend, but we shall attempt cookies soon. It is good to have an argument for shortening rather than butter and I will investigate

    I’d also like the recipe for soft cakey gingerbread cookies, that sounds yum; all this may stir up an orgy of baking. 🙂

  9. shortening will also give you higher raising, cakier cookies.

    It’s all to do with the melting point of butter. (well, it’s *mostly* to do with the melting point of butter, but we are well beyond the realms of ‘need to know’)

  10. I tried these out on Friday, using Co-op baking vegetable fat – recommended for pastry (I think it worked out ok, they were fairly firm on the outside, and fairly chewy, although I’d like to compare with half of this and half butter), molasses, half dark brown sugar and half unrefined sugar – which made it nice and molasses-y. Also added 1 extra tsp ginger and 1/4 tsp cloves and that seemed a good spice ratio.

    Given the number I have consumed in the last three days, I’d call them a success!

  11. A week?! Not possible Kimberly, not possible. Possibly if I make another batch and hide some. James did say he thought they were better on day 2, but I think by today (day four) they were a little over-dry.

  12. that’s odd. they should get chewier, not drier, as they age. maybe there’s a moment when they go dry first?

    today, I had one that was about 10 days old, from a recipe that I thought I didn’t like — only to find that it was becoming the ‘almost too hard .. then chewy’ texture I had been seeking.

    Is molasses inherently about delayed gratification?

  13. Do you have a recipe for Christmas Hermits? – they seem a good way into Cookies for Beginners At Eating Them For Christmas.

  14. I suspect the family would need preliminary lessons in cookie at Christmas eating. Until something is done about my kitchen (like installing the one sitting in my outbuildings) I am not at all sure I can face cooking here …

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